James Surowiecki noted in his New Yorker column this week, probably turned in sometime before this past weekend, that Tiger Woods' recent troubles directly undermined exactly the appeal that sponsors saw in him, and that is his amazing control and focus.
Scandals that aren’t out of tune with a celebrity’s image are often surprisingly easy to bounce back from: after images of Kate Moss snorting coke surfaced, her bookings fell, but, over time, they went up. Revelations that Michael Jordan had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling barely dented his appeal, since the story reinforced the image of him as a fierce competitor. But scandals that conflict with a person’s public image can wreak havoc.
The interesting question is why all of these experts, whose careers depend on their supposed ability to analyze and understand the mood of the public (and of corporations), could have so completely misdiagnosed what was happening. Some of the reaction can be explained as simply assuming that Tiger was too big to be brought down by extramarital transgressions. And some of it probably derived from marketing consultants’ benighted faith that any problem can be solved if the marketing is good enough. But I also think there was a profound misunderstanding on the part of these experts of the nature of Tiger’s appeal, which from the start has been founded on an image of complete control and focus, an image that this scandal utterly wrecked. And the fact that most sports marketing professionals seem not to have understood just how this story would play out with the public and with sponsors, even though understanding these things is their core business, does make you question whether companies should be listening to marketing consultants at all.
I'd generalize to say that 9 times out of 10, if you're relying on consultants, you didn't hire the right person for the job in the first place. That 10th time is usually for some skill it isn't cost-effective to keep in-house full-time (for example, you may need to do some interior decorating in your office once in a while, but keeping an interior decorator on staff full-time is not cost-efficient).